Background Globally, ∼10% of infants are born before full term. Preterm birth exposes the heart to the demands of postnatal cardiovascular function before cardiac development is complete. Our aim was to examine, in hearts collected from infants at autopsy, the effects of preterm birth on myocardial structure and on cardiomyocyte development.
Methods and results Heart tissue was collected at perinatal autopsies of 16 infants who died following preterm birth between 23 and 36 weeks of gestation, and survived for 1-42 days; the hearts of 37 appropriately grown stillborn infants, aged 20-40 weeks of gestation, were used for comparison. Using confocal microscopy and image analysis, cardiomyocyte proliferation, maturation, ploidy, and size were quantified, and interstitial collagen and myocardial capillarization were measured. Preterm birth resulted in a marked reduction in the proliferation of cardiomyocytes relative to age-matched stillborn infant controls (preterm vs. control P<0.0001). In contrast, preterm birth did not affect heart weight, capillarization, interstitial collagen or cardiomyocyte maturation, ploidy, and size.
Conclusions Preterm birth appears to lead to an abrupt reduction in cardiomyocyte cell division. This reduced cardiomyocyte proliferation in preterm infants may adversely impact upon the final number of cardiomyocytes which may reduce cardiac functional reserve, and impair the reparative capacity of the myocardium.
- cell proliferation
- heart development
- preterm birth
Camilla Cohen (Manager)Office of the Vice-Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure)
Ian Harper (Manager), Stephen Firth (Manager), Alex Fulcher (Operator), Oleks Chernyavskiy (Operator), Margaret Rzeszutek (Other), David Potter (Manager), Volker Hilsenstein (Operator), Juan Nunez-Iglesias (Other), Stephen Cody (Manager), Irena Carmichael (Operator), Betty Kouskousis (Other), Chad Johnson (Operator), Sarah Creed (Manager) & Giulia Ballerin (Operator)Office of the Vice-Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure)